Prime Minister Boris Johnson says UK businesses, hauliers and travellers should now prepare for what amounts to a no-deal Brexit outcome in talks with the European Union.
He was speaking on Friday after Lord Frost, the PM’s Europe sherpa, said the UK was “disappointed” by the outcome of a European Union summit in Brussels.
Johnson said it was “clear” the EU is “not willing – unless there is some fundamental change of approach – to offer this country the same terms as Canada.
“To judge on the latest EU summit in Brussels, that won’t work for our EU partners. They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries, in a way that is completely unacceptable to an independent country.”
On the prospects of an “Australia deal”, he said: “We can do it because we always knew there would be change on January 1 whatever type of relationship we had and so now is the time for our businesses, our hauliers, for travellers, to get ready.”
Australia does not have a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, which means most commerce is conducted on World Trade Organisation rules with tariffs on many goods as well as some quota restrictions and customs checks.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she feels “deeply frustrated and depressed” by the prospect of a no-deal Brexit while the UK is still dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The First Minister said coronavirus should have “100% of our time and energy”.
She said: “I feel deeply frustrated and depressed at the prospect of no-deal at the end of the transition period in December.
“That said, being realistic, any deal that is struck right now is going to be such a bare minimum deal that there is going to be disruption.
“I find it very, very frustrating that at a time when all of us should be giving – and I am seeking to do as much as I possibly can – 100% of our time and focus and energy to Covid.”
The First Minister also said she is confident the Scottish Government can cope with the implications of a no-deal Brexit, which she said could be “huge”.
She added: “Make no mistake, resources are finite and every civil servant or every hour of my time that has to be spent right now thinking about the implications of a no-deal Brexit, or a bare minimum deal Brexit, is a civil servant or an hour of my time that is not focused, as it should be, on trying to steer the country through the Covid pandemic.”
Johnson proposed last month that delegations from both the UK and EU walk away from the talks and prepare for a no-deal outcome if there was no agreement by the European Council meeting on October 15.
But, in a text adopted by the summit of EU leaders on the day of the deadline, they “invited” Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier to continue his discussions while urging the UK to “make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible”.
Lord Frost branded the response “unusual” in a statement released later. He tweeted: “Disappointed by the European Council conclusions on UK/EU negotiations.
“(I’m) surprised the EU is no longer committed to working ‘intensively’ to reach a future partnership as agreed with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on October 3.
“Also surprised by the suggestion that to get an agreement all future moves must come from the UK.
“It’s an unusual approach to conducting a negotiation.”
In his call with von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, Johnson expressed “disappointment” that the talks had not made more progress.
However, there is scepticism in Brussels that Downing Street would be prepared to pull the plug on the negotiations.
French President Emmanuel Macron – under pressure from fishermen in his country who fear losing access to British waters – has also indicated that he was prepared to take a hard line.
“Under any circumstance, our fishermen should not be sacrificed for Brexit,” he said.
“If these conditions are not met, it’s possible we won’t have a deal. If the right terms can’t be found at the end of these discussions, we’re ready for a no-deal for our future relations.”
Irish premier Micheal Martin also emphasised the importance of securing a satisfactory agreement on fishing if there was to be an overall trade deal.